Be Aware, Be Safe This Summer
Fort Myers Beach is a wonderful community. We are a small island town filled with folks who look out for each other, take care of each other and who take pride in the fact that they are Islanders. But, especially during the sleepy summer off-season, some seem to forget that we are different from most small towns in that our community also serves as a playground to those who come from far and wide to enjoy our emerald waters and white sandy beach. While the vast majority of our visitors love and respect our island as much as we do, there are some who come over our bridges with darker intentions in mind. Helping our residents and visitors be aware of and protect themselves from these shady characters is the job of Lee County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Specialist Gerald 'Jerry' McNulty, an easygoing deputy who is committed to teaching people how to avoid becoming victims.
"For a crime to occur, there needs to be three elements: desire - the criminal has to have the desire to do something unlawful; ability - he has to have the ability to do this thing he wants to do; and opportunity,” Jerry told us. "The first two are beyond our control but there are many things we can do to prevent the third.”
Things like locking the car.
"People think I'm condescending to them when I say that but the truth is, many people don't lock their cars,” McNulty said. "And that's what criminals look for.”
Jerry showed us a video shot from a house in an eastern Lee County neighborhood. The camera is pointed down the street, and four dark-clothed figures can easily be seen checking cars on both sides of the street. If the doors are locked, the figures move on to the next driveway.
Another thing McNulty suggests is to beef up home security by installing J hooks to keep sliding glass doors from being pried open, putting latch bolt covers on outside doors so no one can pry the deadbolt open with a knife and creating a 'safe room' inside the home where families can retreat to barricade themselves until police arrive in case someone does break in.
"I call these 'layers of defense',” Jerry explained. "Most criminals are lazy - they want dark, easy environments. If they see all this stuff at your house, they will think they're going to have a hard time there and find another house that's simpler for them.”
For those who say, 'well that never happens in MY neighborhood', the LCSO has a website where folks can find out exactly what has happened in their neighborhoods, and when. Go to www.sheriffleefl.organd click on 'Interactive Crime Mapping'. This handy tool allows anyone to input their address and see how many and what types of crimes have been committed near them in however long of a time frame they choose.
So how many thefts, breaking and entering and robberies have occurred in our small town since January 1, 2014? 96, and they happened all over the island. Of those, 54 involved theft or theft from a vehicle. There were also 13 assaults during this period and so many quality of life disturbances that we could not count them all. At this site, folks can also sign up to receive weekly reports on all crimes in the area they choose so they can stay informed.
"Our website has lots of helpful information for people,” McNulty said. "You can even look and see if someone has an arrest record and get the latest news on crime in Lee County.”
Another thing Jerry encourages folks to do is to keep their alarms turned on.
"So many people tell me that they don't activate their alarms because they are scared of getting a fine in case it sends a false alarm,” he said. "If this happens, they can call their alarm provider and ask them to check the equipment, then send in the work order from the provider along with a copy of the fine and the fine will go away.”
McNulty explained that his job is to communicate to the public about crime trends, programs, services and any other information or training that will increase public awareness. He speaks regularly at public meetings and is available any time to conduct residential security surveys where he tells people what they can do to make their homes safer.
"We are the civilian side of the public services division - Sheriff Mike Scott started this as some people are more comfortable talking to someone dressed in civilian clothes,” he told us. "You know that old saying - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Well, we're the ounce of prevention, and the guys with uniforms and guns are the cure.”
McNulty's department also has information on how residents can protect themselves from identity theft, lots of tips on simple things people can do to make themselves less vulnerable in day-to-day life and offers Self Defense Awareness and Familiarization Exchange (SAFE) classes for women.
"Most importantly - wherever you are, stay alert and tuned into your surroundings,” he told us. "I worked in a maximum security facility for five years, and then spent several more years transporting criminals to prison so I know how these people operate - they are predators, and someone who is clearly distracted looks like food to them. Forewarned is forearmed - if you see something, say something, and if your gut tells you the situation isn't a good one, remove yourself from it.”
And lock your home and car doors.
To schedule a free residential security survey, ask McNulty any questions, sign up for a SAFE class, request that a Crime Prevention Officer speak to an organization, join/create a Neighborhood Watch program or for any more information on preventing crime, call 239-477-1000.
Keri Hendry Weeg